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Creative adventurism by agency hand embarrasses M&C Saatchi

28-September-2006
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Creative adventurism by agency hand embarrasses M&C Saatchi

Scam ads or even unpublished creative works that are not done in good taste can often lead to serious embarrassment for an agency to which the creative hand belongs and to the client whose name is dragged into the ‘campaign’. Such creative adventurism should be a matter of concern for the industry as a whole, especially if the agency and the client were kept in the dark.

Last week, M&C Saatchi’s Delhi office was dragged into an unexpected controversy when three unpublished works bearing the name of VLCC, one of the agency’s clients, were uploaded on the site Ads of the World. The site is described as ‘an advertising archive, forum, blog and news page discussing great work worldwide’.

The three ads purported to be for VLCC’s Indian Berberry face scrub used vivid images of the Bhopal gas tragedy, bombing of the World Trade Center and Hiroshima bombing with the tagline ‘Some scars never go’. The posting of the ads led to a furore internationally because of the ghastly and repulsive graphics used.

Following this, Kim Walker, President & CEO, M&C Saatchi Asia-Pacific, issued an apology and the offending creatives were taken off the site. But a Google search shows that the ads can be still viewed on the Ad-dict.com website as well as on the media.com.hk website of Hong Kong-based magazine Media.

The apology from Walker that the Media website still has in its archives states: “M&C Saatchi is mortified and disgusted by these so-called ads and despite not having any participation in their creation, apologises for the understandable revulsion from those who see them.”

Kamal Oberoi, Chairman & Managing Director, M&C Saatchi, India, when asked for his comments, said, “M&C Saatchi reacted swiftly and decisively within hours of becoming aware of these unauthorized postings and terminated the services of the concerned art director”.

He added that the ads were withdrawn from the blog site immediately.

Explaining how the episode happened, Oberoi said, "The unauthorized ads were posted by an art director on a blog site without any knowledge of M&C Saatchi. These unauthorized ads were his personal creation and were posted without informing anyone and of his own volition and were posted from his own personal ID.”

When contacted, Sandeep Ahuja, CEO, VLCC Personal Care Limited, refused to comment on the controversy stating that anything said on the subject would only “add to the issue, which actually requires no mention”. He added, “The advertising industry should work out some sort of ground rules to avoid such incidents in future and take strong action against them.”

In times when opinion is firmly in favour of freedom of expression, where does one draw the line? Is self-censorship the answer?

Oberoi is categorical that there is a case for the industry to curtail such adventurism, especially if a client’s name/brand is misused. “Such unauthorized postings pose a threat to clients, agencies and indeed the entire industry. Any credits and references made to the agency/brand should be authenticated before being posted on the Internet. We believe it is in the collective interest of our business to prevent such acts of piracy and is incumbent on all of us to discourage such misuse of the media."

Commenting on this scenario where creative hands upload works that are never meant to be published and without the knowledge of the agency, Priti Nair Chakravarthy, Executive Creative Director, Lowe, said, “There is absolutely nothing that one can do because these are situations beyond one’s control. There have been cases when a person who has moved out from the agency has posted some work. What do we do?”

She added, “At Lowe, we have tried to bring in a policy that all unreleased ads that people want to upload on various sites either have to go without the name of the agency and, if the agency’s name has to be put, then it has to undergo a screening process.”

Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, Group Creative Director, O&M, is of the opinion that any work that bears the client’s name – even if it is unpublished – should undergo a screening. “When using a client’s or the agency’s name one has to be careful and judicious. As there are obviously others involved, there is no harm in checking with them as it would only ensure in fostering long-term relationships,” he said.

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